I hate to break it to you. Especially because I don’t know you. Or, maybe I do. Maybe you are my sister. Or my mother. Or my mother-in-law. Or my friend. Or my neighbor. Or my daughter’s teacher. Or my husband. Or my barista. Or maybe you are me. Then again, you can never really know someone. Even yourself. But that is for another time.
I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t happy. You are a graceful pretender. Your smile is winning. Your facade is architecturally sound and lovely. You spin through your days shedding laughter like a tree does leaves. You have a good job. You have a stellar education. You have a fabulous partner. Your kids are cute and cuddly and creative. Your home is serene. You have your health. You have your wealth. You have so many things.
But still. You are not happy. I don’t need to know you to know this much. Not happy. Sorry.
Wait. I’m not sorry. Not even the slightest bit. Because if I know this about you, you should know this about you.
So. Now you know.
Now it is my turn to explain myself. Why am I bullying my way into your innocent morning with this psychological satchel of doom and gloom? Who do I think I am? You are living your life, soaking up the fibers of a new day. You are home with your kids, or at the office settling in, or at the coffee shop waking up. You are doing your thing. And, here I am, interrupting your thing. Not just interrupting your thing, but telling you something you don’t want to hear.
You. Are. Not. Happy.
But this is not doom and gloom, so bear with me. This is truth. And truth is a slimy beast. It wiggles away from the most able hands. It escapes the most pointed minds. It has evaded us all for centuries. But some things, simple things, are undeniably true.
One thing: there is no such thing as perfect happiness.
Happiness is something we all want. We crave it like cookies. It fuels us. To aim bigger. To be bigger. We chase it. We pursue it. We talk about it. Hey, we even take classes about it.
You are not happy because there is no such thing as “happy.” It’s not that from my digital pedestal, I have keen insight into supreme suffering about which you are unaware. No. You are not happy, I am not happy, no one is happy because Happiness (that Platonic-type beast with a capital H) is a destination which we will never reach. A destination, which by its very nature, its exquisite essence, is unreachable.
Do you feel better about things? I hope so. And if you are still a pinch peeved that I have tainted your Tuesday with psychobabble poison, don’t blame me. Blame my wise professor du jour, Tal Ben-Shahar. He said it. He boiled it down. I am but a humble and invigorated messenger. He said that there is no such thing as “happy.” But there is “happier.”
Happiness, like most other heavyweight human concepts, exists along a continuum. And yet. We tend to think in problematic binary opposites. We tend to say we are happy or unhappy. We tend to identify a movie or a book as good or bad. We tend to label a politician as honest or dishonest. And perhaps we are wired to do this. But we are missing something, something big, something true, when we do this.
If I didn’t learn another thing in this Positive Psychology class, it would have been worth it to learn this. To learn that I am not happy!
To learn that when it comes to happiness, we are bartering in glorious grays. This truth is at once humbling and liberating. If we can never be truly, unequivocally happy, if there is no utopia waiting to welcome us, we can relax our expectations. We can breathe.
We can stop fretting about being happy and focus on being happier.
And maybe I am foolish, or riding a timely wave of caffeine-fueled optimism (go Starbucks!), but little things can make us happier. Little things we might have disregarded when our goal was that much grander, when our aim was to attain the unattainable. Little things.
Little things like writing a blog post. A blog post about truth and its messy threads. A blog post about that thing we all want, desperately, rabidly, obsessively. About that thing we can never fully have. Writing such a blog post makes me happier because in writing it I admit something to you and to me. Because in writing it, I bow to limits. Because in writing these words, in realizing what they mean, the sharp corners of the world instantly dull, the harsh details blur, the insecurities that abound—in sad eyes and furrowed brows and crossed arms—become inspirations. Suddenly, the islands collide and gulfs disappear.
There is something we all want. And we can’t have it.
We can have bits and pieces of it. We can. But we can never have it all. And we can curse this. We can bemoan the fact that we are constantly striving, toiling, for a prize that can never be won.
OR. We can see this as I am just now beginning to see it. Liberating. Inspiring. We are not supposed to be happy because we cannot possibly be happy and this means that we can stop pretending. We can stop ironing out our existential wrinkles. We can stop flashing faux smiles. We can stop working so hard to convince life’s jury that we are happy. We can stop. And now, finally, we can focus on living. A good life. A happier life. Because that is something each and every one of us can have.
We can’t have it all. But we can have some. And some can be amazing. If we let it be.